REVIEW: Brief Encounter, Wick Theatre Company

James Newton as Alex with Hazel Starns as Laura, watched by Kate McGann as Beryl and Elena Markham as Mrs Baggot in Wick Theatre Company's production of Brief Encounter. Picture: Miles Davies
James Newton as Alex with Hazel Starns as Laura, watched by Kate McGann as Beryl and Elena Markham as Mrs Baggot in Wick Theatre Company's production of Brief Encounter. Picture: Miles Davies

Kneehigh Theatre Company’s version of Brief Encounter spins the classic love story in a whole new way.

Music, dance and comedy are used alongside the heart-wrenching story of a true love that can never be realised.

Wick Theatre Company chose this dynamic production for its entry to this year’s Brighton and Hove Arts Council Drama Awards – and for the audience, at least, it was a winner, with every single seat sold, from Wednesday to yesterday, including the matinée.

The play combines Noel Coward’s short play Still Life with his screenplay for the 1945 film and while the unusual take on it gives it a whole new, light feel, the Wick managed to retain the torment of forbidden love.

James Newton gave a quiet yet passionate performance as Alec and when he and Hazel Starns, playing Laura, were alone on the stage, deep in conversation, it was as if they were the only people in the world.

The second half was mainly focused on their story, as their love grew alongside the realisation that they could not be together.

The entire audience watched in total silence, enraptured, and while they did not manage a standing ovation at the end, many raised their hands to applaud.

The first half, however, was very different, launching as if we were in a cinema about to watch a film. Costumed ushers were there to show us to our seats and there was live music to set the ball rolling.

There were a number of songs and some dance routines, which worked surprisingly well. It did not make light of the piece, it simply created a new dimension.

Film clips were included, too, being cleverly woven into the live drama.

This adaptation brings other love stories to the fore, providing a contrast to the romance of Laura and Alec.

Elena Markham was simply marvellous as Mrs Baggot and her flirtatious games with David Peaty, playing Albert, were a real highlight. David, a Wick stalwart, is such a natural on stage. His solo in this piece was beautifully done and his striptease routine was very comical.

In the smaller roles, Adrian Kenward had Alec’s doctor friend Stephen just right, clearly demonstrating his disapproval of the liaison with Laura in his flat.

And Judith Berrill, of course, will always stand out from the crowd. Playing Dolly, she chattered on relentlessly as Laura’s face slowly fell, realising the last goodbye with Alec had been ruined. He left with just a firm grip on the shoulder.